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What is ultrafast broadband?

By Dan Howdle
Friday, January 4th 2019

When considering an ultrafast broadband package, it's a good idea to ensure that you understand what it is, whether you need it and indeed whether or not you can get it.

As the name suggests, ultrafast broadband is an incredibly quick broadband connection. But there's a little more to it than that, as you're about to find out.

What is ultrafast broadband?

The definition of ultrafast

Standard ADSL broadband is a connection with a speed of less than 24Mbps (megabits per second). So-called 'superfast' broadband offers speeds of 24Mbps or more, and less than 300Mbps. 'Ultrafast' broadband is a connection with speeds of more than 300Mbps, but less than 1Gbps (one gigabit per second, or 1000Mbps).

The 1Gbps top speed, still categorised as 'ultrafast', is also sometimes also known as 'gigabit broadband'. Technically there is a category above ultrafast known as 'hyperfast', but since no one offers it to private households in the UK, we can skip over that.

How fast is ultrafast broadband in real terms?

To give you an idea of what those numbers actually mean, here's a quick look at how many high-definition (HD) movies you could stream at the same time to separate TVs with each type of connection. The number of megabits per second in these examples are based on the advertised average speeds of packages that fall into each category.

  • Standard ADSL broadband (10Mbps-11Mbps): Stream between one and two HD movies at the same time
  • Superfast broadband (35Mbps-213Mbps): Stream between four and 30 HD movies at the same time
  • Ultrafast broadband (362Mbps-1000Mbps): Stream between 50 and 150 HD movies at the same time

If you're looking at those numbers and thinking 'Why on earth would I ever want internet fast enough to stream over a hundred movies at once?' then you are asking the right question: Do you really need it?

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Do I need ultrafast broadband?

Need? Almost certainly not. This question really comes down to whether or not you want it. Your average British household doesn't actually need all that much speed. Everyday uses such as surfing the internet or streaming movies and TV only start to tax your average connection when a few people in the household are doing them at the same time.

However, there are some special cases where an ultrafast connection might be desirable (if not absolutely necessary). If one or more people in the household is a gamer who regularly downloads their games from the internet, having a fast connection means doing so will take less time. Likewise if there are members of the household who like to stream movies and TV in 4K (a very high-fidelity screen resolution only available to the latest TVs), a faster connection is better.

However, even if these things occur regularly in your household, a superfast fibre connection is probably going to be enough. We generally don't advise ultrafast for your average household, but if it's something you want, then by all means get it.

Who offers ultrafast broadband?

A lot will depend on where you live and whose side you are on when it comes to defining the word 'ultrafast'. Virgin Media is the only widely available provider to offer speeds over 300Mbps – the accepted minimum to be labelled ultrafast according to Ofcom – while BT labels its own 100Mbps packages 'ultrafast'. There are also a number of much smaller providers which offer even faster speeds, but only to very specific locales.

  1. Virgin Media: Virgin Media is the only widely-available provider to offer true ultrafast speeds (greater than 300Mbps). Virgin Media still only covers around 60% of UK homes right now, though, so you'll need to check if you can get it
  2. BT: BT broadband labels its 100Mbps packages 'ultrafast', though by anyone other than BT's definition, these speeds are classed as superfast. BT has begun the process of rolling out true ultrafast broadband, but this is currently available to almost no one and it will be several years before it is widely available
  3. Hyperoptic and other providers: Some smaller providers use their own-built fibre networks to offer speeds of up to 1Gbps. The most notable of these is Hyperoptic, which continues to expand its network. While it's still very unlikely you can get it, it's the most likely of these smaller firms

Can I get ultrafast broadband?

With Virgin Media the only widely-available ultrafast broadband provider, you should use our Virgin Media postcode checker to see if you can get it. Failing that, there is a slim chance you may be able to get ultrafast broadband from Hyperoptic, but if neither of these are available, you can use the button below to browse the fastest deals where you live.

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Frequently asked questions

What is 'FTTP' broadband? Is it the same as ultrafast?

Fibre broadband comes in two types: FTTC and FTTP. FTTC stands for 'fibre to the cabinet', meaning the fibre optic cable goes from the exchange to your nearest green cabinet, with the remaining distance (known as the last mile) between the cabinet and your house being made of copper. FTTP stands for 'fibre to the premises' and means the line is fibre all the way.

Copper slows down the maximum possible speeds considerably, where fibre allows for very fast connections. FTTP therefore, is capable of much faster speeds than FTTC. However, the term 'ultrafast' describes speeds between 300Mbps and 1000Mbps and is not specific to either technology.

Is Virgin Media ultrafast better than BT ultrafast?

Yes. Virgin Media is the only provider to offer true ultrafast broadband (over 300Mbps. BT calls its 100Mbps+ packages ultrafast, but this is not technically correct.

Who's the fastest broadband (internet) provider?

Virgin Media. There are some smaller, faster providers available in spits and spots up and down the country, but Virgin is the only ultrafast provider you're likely to be able to get.

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